British government ministers and US states in April 2023 seem intent on forcing all people anyone suspects of being trans to tell the questioning person their assigned gender at birth. As any trans person will tell you, forcing someone to disclose their gender history or gender identity is one of the biggest faux pas for a trans person, let alone someone else disclosing that person’s gender history to other folk without their consent. Every single person has a gender history based on their assigned sex at birth, and frankly, as has been repeatedly pointed out, this will impact far more cis people that it will trans simply because trans folk make up less than 1% of the population. Cis folk are already experiencing the backlash from gender performative expectations, especially butch lesbian women and female sub-Saharan African athletes who naturally produce more testosterone than a European established baseline.
Any attempt at policing spaces by sex invariably runs into the problem of policing women’s bodies. What, precisely, is the criteria for establishing female sex? Is it assignment at birth, in which case intersex folk are excluded. Is it chromosomes, in which case intersex folk and anyone with androgen insensitivity syndrome are excluded. Is it dressing in a feminine manner? In which case it is does to the society to decide what is feminine. Is it owning a uterus? In which case trans men would be included and cis women who have had a hysterectomy excluded. Etc etc etc. How you ring fence womanhood will always exclude many women, or force people to jump through performative hoops just to access vital services. Conversely, it will frighten many women from using those services as they will not feel comfortable performing in the expected manner.
Using the law to enforce segregation in the name of safety is as old as the concept of law itself. Go back to Babylon, Athens, Rome, and the New Testament and you will find legal boundaries around what women can and cannot do and be. A woman should be silent, a woman is property, a woman should dress this way or that. A woman is bound by the law to a male guardian. Essentially, the woman is a legal child beholden to the men around her. Modern laws and regulations seek to turn back the legal clock to this period, seeing anything outside of a narrowly defined version of womanhood as harmful. Bathroom bills and gender segregation only benefit a narrow few, and actively hurt anyone who falls outside those standards.
This is why in the trans community only a trans person has the capacity to talk about their transition history. It is only with their consent it is discussed and aired, and only with their knowledge is it made an instrument of law in the form of name changes and possible changes to birth certificates. The concept of being stealth is poisonous because it assumes that not disclosing gender history is some secret. Not disclosing personal information may be harmful because of other people’s reactions, but that must always be a personal choice. Gender history is something every single person has, not just trans people, and to assume that someone is cis or trans, or to assume that a person has an obligation to tell, assumes that gender history is a terrible secret. Trans women are murdered because of so called trans panic precisely because society views being trans as shameful and degrading. That is society’s problem, not the trans persons. Hence why forcing someone to disclose their gender history is problematic.
Who uses what toilets, what changing rooms, and other gendered resources only matters in an environment of gender panic and fear. Trans people, non-binary people, and people of different gender expressions have been using these facilities as long as they have existed. All countries have legislated for this over the course of their legal histories, though it has only become a political issue because anyone expressing their gender identity outside of the normative standards of society are a small minority and therefore an easy target. Butch women have long suffered for this, gay men have been arrested and imprisoned in gay sting operations, all cisnormative. Who polices these spaces will come down to who is prepared to wield a mobile phone in such a space, who has an axe to grind against gender non-conformity, who has malice aforethought. It will not impact all spaces all the time, it will just inspire fear in those who actively need to use those spaces.
This is a matter of power, who gets to decide who is feminine enough to qualify. Or who gets to tick the right boxes solely based on a doctor’s examination four minutes from birth. If sex-based categories are the predeterminate then a great many people will live in fear, and not just the obvious ones subject to dog whistles and diatribes. Fear is a pernicious weapon of power because it means that even if only 1% of people are checked using facilities no-one will know for sure who that 1% will be, and thus will essentially self-police. Cis women are already complaining about this even before the laws potentially get enacted, and their clamours will grow worse the more they are policed.
To use the law as an instrument of fear and bodily control is to return to the time of infantilising women. In requesting gender history you are forcing all users of all spaces to account for themselves, not just the targets of ire. First they came for the single mothers and sex workers, then they came for the gay men, then they came for trans women and abortion rights. Next, it could be anyone. If sex-based spaces require assigned at birth documentation it creates a list people more readily controlled, because who actively wants to carry around their birth certificate (which can be amended by law). This level of state control is perverse because it is so open ended and pernicious. Yes trans people will be afraid, but ultimately if being a woman comes down to wearing a dress, heels, make-up, “feminine” hairstyle, and painted nails just to access women’s spaces then who really benefits?
This is why we need to fight these laws, abortion, bathroom, medication, and sports. What makes a gendered person is so much more complex that assigned at birth sex, and to reduced it down to a single M or F erases everything that person represents. Yes, predatory behaviour needs to stamped out, but for every one person who potentially would abuse gendered spaced many more thousands use them without issue. You do not ban men from male locker rooms just on the off chance one man may carry out a killing spree in there, and “think of the women” carries the same logical fallacy. Everyone should have their gender history respected, as we never know what the person next to us actually identifies as. This is an everyone issue, not just a trans one, because first they can for trans women, and next it will be heavy handed policing of all gender expression.